Tag Archives: Northeastern

I Got a Job!

For my final coop, I knew I wanted something international. This job will be leading Northeastern freshmen who were accepted to the January semester (Jan starts as we call them) on a fall semester abroad.  I will TA one of their classes, organize their service-learning projects, lead them on excursions, tutor when necessary, help with homesickness and culture shock, and make sure everyone makes it home alive.

No, I don’t know where I’m going yet.  I could be sent to Australia, London, Costa Rica, or Thesaloniki, Greece.  Of course I prefer the developing nations, and the chance to be back in Latin America or the Mediterranean is amazing.  It doesn’t hurt that this position is well compensated, and I felt better about it when Sheff said she feels like it fits my niche well.  What exactly is that niche?  Well I think it’s something like educational, socially-minded travel.

But I still had a lot of trouble with this one.  It all comes back to the conundrum I’ve been having for the last few years: there are a lot of subjects that interest me, and whenever I’m doing something that doesn’t directly help people, I feel guilty.  I feel like I’m slacking, like I’m a coward, like I’m taking the easy way out.  It doesn’t help that so many people told me they think it isn’t challenging enough, hard core enough for me.  Several people, after I told them I accepted the job, referred to it as babysitting.  (side note: I will never understand why people think it’s okay to bash your job to your face, but it happens all the time at NU with coops.)

I did, however, find some great comfort from an unlikely source.  The Global Poverty Impact groups that my friend Kevin started are interfaith conversations about equality, poverty, giving, eradicating poverty, why we care and the best way to help.  We also make small, permanent lifestyle changes in order to spend more thoughtfully and set aside some money to go towards a cause of our choosing.  I love how thought provoking this group is, how respectful and smart its members are, and the “Live Deliberately” ethos that I think anyone can get behind, regardless of their religious views.

But I digress.  Jen, a social entrepreneurship person and member of my capstone class, had great insight.

“Just think abut how many freshman you will be effecting.  You can teach them about all the opportunities they have to do good at Northeastern, and be a role model to them.”

It meant a lot to me to hear this from Jen, someone who has also struggled with how to combine socially-minded endeavors, earning money, furthering a career and getting the most out of Northeastern.  When I think about it that way, N.U.in still helps me with the mission I once (and still?) have:

I want to travel to parts of the world with injustice, spend my time there in a meaningful way, and learn their stories so I may tell them on their behalf.  If I can make people understand and care using the gift of my writing, I can catalyze more action than I ever could have accomplished as just one person.

At the time, I was assuming that fact-based fictional stories, plays, or screenplays would be my method.  I never even considered blogging or any sort of journalism, which now seems like such a silly omission.  If I can use service-learning, reflection and this time abroad (perhaps in a less-developed country) to instill an ethic of global awareness and helping others in a useful way, I can consider working for N.U.in a success, and progress toward my mission.  When I think about how much impact Julie Miller had on all of us in Benin, this seems attainable.  Because of her, we were more thoughtful, patient, cooperative, positive and open-minded individuals.

So I am genuinely excited about this job, and the possibilities it brings.

Should We Be Here?

I worry that since we’ve had a discussion on ethics, the issue was opened and then closed.

Unfortunately, the more I learn about this program the more I question our presence here.  Many of our readings discussed the pitfall that service-learning is all about the learning, with service as a secondary concern, or rather an afterthought.  No one in this group denies this when it is phrased as, “but learning is the most important thing,” which they say often, but several people looked uncomfortable when I stated that service is less important to this program.

We are literally service-learning about service-learning.

I didn’t realize that until today when a group was presenting about service-learning, and the many disciplines it is in.  Sociology, human services, nursing, even math.  But there’s something odd about the recursive nature of this program.

We haven’t taken any courses on Benin—its culture, history or language.   We’ve had a few short readings, and one week of language classes.  The language classes were on the large side, had only two levels, and complied with the typically dismal expectations of Americans as language learners.

The American ambassador to Benin responded to a question on Monday about how to handle aid ethically in Benin.  He felt that the problem is not being able to give them enough, because the Beninois always want more aid and never complain about it having imperialist strings attached.  I think, sir, that’s rather not the point.  Everyone wants money, sure, but is it ethical to give it the way we do?

I don’t like that we’re ignorant when we talk to the Beninois students, and that until earlier this week it wasn’t clear what the adjective form of Benin is.  I hear Beninese, Bee-inese and  Beninois.  Isn’t that a little disgusting?  Shouldn’t we at least know what to CALL them before we go in and analyze them for a day or two?  Isn’s a few days too short to make decisions about what to do with funding?

What do you think?  Do we have an obligation to spend more time before we make an analysis, draw a conclusion?  Should we know more than the local language?  Should people know at least the language?  Does it not matter because American tourists “never know anything”?  Is that even acceptable?  Should we be in a different category from tourists?

And now, I wonder that I won’t be labeled as negative and counter-productive if I continue to raise such concerns within the group, especially since that’s something for which I can be docked points.  Not what matters in the grand scheme of things, I know, but it would be nice to talk these things through.  I don’t want to just pull a nutty and yell at all the Human Services majors, but everyone seems so reluctant to venture into much more analytical thought on the matter.

So what do you think, my intelligent, well-intentioned readers?

UPDATE: Since writing this post about a week ago, the issue of ethics has gone from a whispered concern to a major topic of conversation, for almost everyone on the trip.  It’s always nice to be proven wrong when it comes to ethics and analytical thinking.  I’m pleased to say that we (the group, leaders, and organizations we interact with) will be adressing the issue continually for the next two weeks.

Traveler or Traitor?

Damn! Are we traitors? Un-American Commie sympathizers? Freedom Fry-eating liberal whackadoos? Or just misguided college kids?

In our discussion today, many people mentioned that they had received negative reactions to our trip.  They were called un-American or traitors, and chided for not volunteering at home, or treated as stupid for “wasting money” to volunteer abroad.  Here are some of my thoughts on the matter:

  • Our trip is service-learning, and for credit.  It actually costs less than a regular summer semester at NU would, if you include housing, food and such.  I would also be taking classes regardless of whether I traveled this summer, so the argument that my program fees are better spent on aid/charity doesn’t quite work here.
  • Many of the people who say things like, “why aren’t you doing something about all the poverty at home?!” aren’t actually doing anything about it either
  • Service doesn’t have to be either/or.  Volunteering at home and abroad is not mutually exclusive
  • Experiences abroad can make us better volunteers/employees back home
  • Things will never be perfect at home, so by that logic we (as people, a community and a nation) should never help any other country, state, neighborhood or even family.  That sort of logic doesn’t help make the world a better place, and if you start applying it to the prioritization of issues it is a virtual spiral into inaction
  • It is no one else’s decision but my own to determine my priorities and my path in life.  In other words, buzz off!  This is my money, my credits, my scholarships, and my time.  I’ll put it where I think it can benefit me and others the most.

What do you think?  Are we wasting our time and our money by going abroad?  Should we be focusing on Roxbury, the Reading food pantry and other such local isssues?  Is it better to do something like go work on Katrina relief effort, or is that not okay until we’re done fixing Massachusetts?  Would my tuition money be better spent at some charity or relief organization while I stay at home?  Should we, as an imperialist nation (and human beings) feel obligated to help?  Is helping foreigners un-American?

Befuddled, or Tiny Violin Day

There was a point when I felt like my life path was always waiting for me, like that mini-game with digging for treasure in Mario Party, and I was lucky enough to be uncovering what was always there.  With Arabic, the Egypt trip and working at Amnesty, I felt confident in my direction, if not my skills.  I had a great answer anytime someone asked what I was up to, and in my daily life I felt like I was stretching, learning and adding to the conversation.

Then I came home and Andrew and I broke up.  I started working and trying to recover from losing not only Andrew but some of my closest friends.  I moved in with some strangers, and tried (and failed) to get back to where I used to be with my freshman year friends, and the great new people they had acquired in the meantime.  That of course only served to remind me that they all live together and I lived with strangers.  UNA was a constant source of negativity, although many would argue that I was that source.  And finally, I got a poor review from Amnesty that I wasn’t expecting at all.

That leaves a lot of things up in the air, like human rights and nonprofit as a career choice, as well as the basic people I spend my time with.

I don’t know what I’m going to do with where I live, whether I go on coop in the fall or spring, traveling, or even writing this blog.  I had wanted to try for an international coop at the Arab League this spring, but now I’m questioning my wherewithal to live alone in Cairo for six months.  I don’t know if my tutoring job is waiting for me, though it probably is, and I have no idea what to do about UNA.  I miss the debate and the camaraderie (when it was there), but I don’t know if there’s a place for me there anymore.  Even if there is a place, that doesn’t mean it’s a good idea.  For a long time people on both sides of the aisle have been wondering why I’m wasting my time, but I have yet to determine if that premise is true.

So that’s where I am today.  It’s a grey day in Cuba and I’m 21 years old and I have no clue what I’m doing with my life, or even with my time here.  It’s not pretty, succinct or resolved; it’s just today.

Inspiration: here, via here, Mariseca y les Aldeanos

Cattle Call

Sometime in the next few weeks I will be posting an FAQ post.  I’ve already received a lot of questions in person, but if there’s anything you would like to know about Cuba, Egypt, France, the Dialogue program, travel in general or being a student at Northeastern, now is the time to ask!

I’ve already done a decent amount of research, but if I don’t know the answer I’ll do my best to find out or point you in the right direction.  If there’s anything I won’t be able to answer yet, I’ll save it for when I’m in-country, which brings me to my next point…

If there’s anything you’d like me to find out about or take pictures of while I’m in Cuba, let me know.  Most Americans will never have the opportunity to go, so this is your chance to get the answers to any question you could possibly have about Cuba. 

I know you’re reading, and I know you’re curious because I keep getting texts and emails about my trip, so leave it in the comments section!  I promise I won’t bite 🙂

Declaration of Intention

I had a blast writing this blog, and in egypt in general.  Originally, I started this one specifically for the trip, to be grandparent- and Bridgiebear-friendly as well as to calm the collective nerves of my family.  In the meantime though, I had lots to say (shocking) that had nothing to do with the trip, so I started a separate blog. 

At this point, the necessity of separating the two doesn’t really exist.  There’s nothing profane on either blog, and I don’t want this one to die.  Increasingly posts of one type are bleeding into the other, as the Egypt experience invairably colored everything I do.  I like wordpress far better (it shows me stats so I know how I’m doing; the other blog is on blogger) and I’ve already distributed this link to most of the people who matter in my life.  So I’m keeping this one and transferring the best of my other blog to here. 

So what will I write about now?  Well, I plan to continue travelling as well as learning about the Middle East, Arabic language and culture and international politics, so there will be some of that.  I’ve also assigned myself some homework (i’m on coop and miss school cuz i’m a nerd) and i’ll be keeping up with that here.  Basically, I don’t feel done with my research about women’s clothing.  I have started expanding the paper, and that will be reflected in various posts here. 

So I hope you keep reading–there will be plenty of stuff, new and old, coming down the pike!

We Are Family

Everyone is sad to go, for a variety of reasons.  Cairo is like home, and no one wants to go back to the real world, outside of our bubble.  But one of the biggest causes of sadness is that we have all gotten so close so quickly.  Massages, relentless teasing and snuggling en masse have become a regular part of our group culture.  We all have little nicknames (some more loving and adorable than others…) and almost all the roommates love each other. 

I don’t know what I’m going to do when I’m not greated by 25 Great Americans every morning at breakfast.  I will miss Brendan’s goofy laugh, Sarah’s practical advice and Nana’s insanity.  There will be no more “anonymous” lovenotes from Meaghan, fake sermons by Khalid or constant freestyling from Ray.  I didn’t come here intending to find all these people who would become so important to me.  In fact, I didn’t think about the social aspect at all.  But I’m glad our ragtag bunch was the group I was lucky enough to join, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. 

So to my Dialogue family, (which includes a creepy, plastic anatomically correct new addition):  thank you, I love you, I’ll miss you.  I hope to see everyone at our welcome back hafla, and I’m so glad we’ve already started planning reunions.  You’re all welcome to stay with me at NU or in Reading any time, and I can’t wait to see how our friendships transition stateside. 

Dennis Sullivan gave us some good advice: don’t think that you may never come back.  Just enjoy it and think about when you’ll be back.  For me, I think it has to be soon.  I’m as in love with Cairo as I am with travel.  Now I just need to find a way to make Northeastern pay for it all.